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June 15, 2017
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Grenfell Tower block tragedy
72 people were killed by the horrific fire that engulfed the Grenfell Tower block of flats in North Kensington, West London on Wednesday, 14 June 2017.
The 24-storey tower block burnt throughout the day, taking firefighters over 24 hours to get it under control, leading to confusion and uncertainty that lasted for days. Speaking at the time, Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said there was an ‘awful reality’ that it may not be possible to identify some people. “I must consider the fact that there may be others in the building who, for whatever reason, have not been reported to us.
In the days that followed the tragedy, Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a public inquiry into the devastating blaze. “Right now, people want answers. That’s why I am today ordering a full public inquiry into this disaster,” said the PM whilst visiting the scene. “We need to know what happened, we need to have an explanation of this. People deserve answers; the inquiry will give them.”
A criminal investigation was also opened to examine whether building regulations had been breached when the block was refurbished, while then-Communities Secretary Sajid Javid set up an Independent Expert Advisory Panel (IEAP) to report on what measures could be implemented to make buildings safer.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan commented shortly after that the fire was a “preventable accident” caused by “years of neglect” by the local council and successive governments and demanded a “national response” to the tragedy.
Grenfell Tower was built in 1974 and consisted of 120 flats and also included communal facilities. An £8.6-million refurbishment of the block took place in 2015/16 and the bottom four floors were extensively remodelled, adding nine additional homes.
Reports at the time suggested that residents of Grenfell had raised concerns about fire safety in the flats going back many years but they were ‘disregarded’. Rydon Construction, which carried out the refurbishment work, is reported to have said that it “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards.”
Following the refurbishment work, London Fire Brigade gave the tower block a ‘medium’ fire risk rating but the resident’s group continued to make claims about fire safety worries.
In the year since the tragedy, investigations into the cause and response to the fire have been ongoing.
The ongoing public inquiry, launched by its Chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick in August 2017, received hundreds of thousands of documents and hundreds of applications to be core participants. Oral evidence and findings from expert reports began to be heard in June 2018. Hearings are due to continue until September 2018. A second phase of the inquiry will begin later in the year.
Hackitt concluded that indifference and ignorance had led to a “race to the bottom” in building safety practices and expressed the need for a “radical rethink of the whole system and how it works”. This included recommendations for recommends a “very clear model of risk ownership” and an “outcomes-based” regulatory framework, but did not recommend an explicit ban on combustible cladding.
Following the report’s publication, the government said it would consult on banning combustible cladding. Housing Secretary James Brokenshire added that ministers will also look to ban the use of desktop studies to assess the performance of external cladding systems based on the BS 8414 test.
The cladding used on housing is one of the primary focuses of scrutiny following the Grenfell fire. An estimated 800 high rise buildings across the country use similar cladding to that found in Grenfell Tower. A number of tests into cladding have resulted worrying results: Javid said in September that of 173 high-rise social housing blocks fitted with aluminium cladding, only 8 passed fire safety building regulations.
It was revealed in March that only seven of the 158 social housing blocks in England with dangerous cladding have had the material completely removed. The government announced in May that it will fund a £400-million operation to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks owned by councils and housing associations.
Also under scrutiny is the standard advice to tenants of blocks of flats that they are safer if they stay in their accommodation than to leave, unless it is their flat which is on fire.
This story was updated on 06/06/18 to include additional information
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Grenfell Tower block tragedy72 people were killed by the horrific fire that engulfed the Grenfell Tower block of flats in North Kensington, West London on Wednesday, 14 June 2017.
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